Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
I recently received an email from a single mom who would like to read more about single parents who are working, raising their children…and returning to college in order to obtain a degree for financial security for their families. As much as I searched, I could not find any statistics on the numbers of single parents returning to college. However, I know that the numbers must be high because I know a lot of single parents who are doing it – every day!
Over the next year, I hope to look at the questions raised by other single parents, children of single parents, and ourselves when it comes to the issues of juggling not only family and work, but also education in a single parent’s life. If you have questions that you would like to see addressed, please send them to me by clicking on the "Contact Editor/Author" button at the bottom of this article. Topics I anticipate discussing will include financial aid for single parents, childcare issues, spreading yourself too thin, and balancing the need to provide with your child’s need for your time.
I believe that the best source of such information will be fellow single parents who attend college. For this reason, I have solicited the help of a couple of friends who are single parents who work outside the home and attend college while raising their children. I anticipate that we will often have different views and different solutions to the topics we discuss and I hope that at least one of those will offer ideas to single parents who are searching for answers.
First, I would like to introduce you to the mothers that will be assisting me in writing these articles:
Amy met her ex-husband while she was working an internship in Europe. She quickly fell in love with him and his family, as they opened their arms to her and made her feel at home. When she returned to the States, Amy was love-sick and everything at home seemed so much more “dull.” She returned to Europe for the summer, and the romance grew stronger than ever. Before the summer was over, she was married. Amy and her new husband moved back to the States and he quickly found a job in the field of information technology. Amy was working part-time in a law office and going to school. Her husband encouraged her to enter a graduate degree program once she attained her bachelor’s degree. After four years of marriage, Amy found out she was pregnant. Little Sara was the joy of their lives! Amy insisted on keeping in close contact with her husband’s family and was adamant that Sara be immersed in their differing cultures. All seemed to be going well – there was no doubt that both Amy and her husband loved their daughter, there was no financial strain, and Amy was happy in her roles of mother, wife, and scholar. It was quite a surprise when her husband informed her that he was “bored” with their life and that she spent too much time with Sara and not enough with him. Not long after his confession, Amy found out that her husband was having an affair. She filed for divorce and began her journey of discovery as a single parent. She is working a part-time job and reluctantly accepting financial assistance from her parents while she fights for child support and alimony. She has moved from the family home to a small apartment and is currently working on her PhD, often feeling guilty about the time she spends away from Sara.
Jody met the father of her son while she was in the military. Her pregnancy was unplanned, but after much thought, Jody decided to take on the responsibility of the pregnancy. Her partner, however, was unwilling. They remained in contact throughout the pregnancy, but broke communications shortly thereafter. Jody remained in the military throughout her pregnancy and for several years afterwards. She had a good network of support through friends and co-workers who were everything from a listening ear to a willing nanny. Her son's father chose not to be a part of her son's life. Upon leaving the military, Jody moved home to be closer to family. When her son, Charlie, asks about his father, she offers little information and instead details to him what he does have rather than concentrate on what he doesn't. He has an "unconventional" family that consists of his mother, a "me-maw", a "paw-paw", an uncle and aunt. They all love him and want the best for him. To this point, this has sufficed; however, recently more questions about his father have surfaced and the most recent contact between Jody and her son's father ended in a request to verify paternity. Jody has been working on her college degree for the past 8 years, completing her basic course requirements at a local technical college and then transferring to a local state university to complete her education degree. Her goal is to teach at the elementary school level. Jody juggles her own schedule of a full-time job, part-time job and school with her son's schedule of school, band, and soccer while trying not to rely too much upon her parents. This is not an easy task and often she finds herself requesting their assistance in the form of babysitting, transportation for her son, and emotional and financial support.
I began my college career in 2000. My job at a local state university allows me to take one course a semester free of charge. When I can afford the additional cost, I take two classes a semester instead. It is very slow-going. When I began my “college career”, my daughters were ten and fourteen. Since that time, the oldest is pursuing a college career of her own and has moved out of the house. The youngest is now a junior in high school. We have been “on our own” since I filed for divorce when I found out I was pregnant with my youngest. For the next few years, my daughters had limited contact with their father, at his choice. He would make arrangements to pick them up for the weekend and they would sit in the living room, bags packed, and he would never show. Even when their paternal grandmother would take them for a visit, he would not spend time with them. Over time, his contact with them – in person and by phone – decreased steadily. For the past five years, we have not even known where he lived or how to contact him at all. My support system consists of my mother who has been a blessing when it comes to babysitting and chauffeuring over the years and truly good friends who have been a shoulder to lean on and a source of inspiration. Challenges have been my daughters’ resentment at the loss of my time when it comes to being away from home for classes, finances, and juggling the schedules of two busy teens. Creative budgeting – both of finances and time – has become one of my goals to achieve!
As we look at various topics that affect single parents who are pursuing a college degree, I hope that our thoughts, ideas, and improvised solutions will help other single parents also pursuing their degrees. I stress again – if you have specific questions or topics you would like to see discussed, to not hesitate to contact me! After all, this column is for ALL single parents; I would love you hear from YOU.